Major political parties resolve lingering obstacles to army integration, raising hopes that they can make progress on other issues.
In a key milestone for the peace process in Nepal, the integration of former Maoist combatants into the country's army resumed on Thursday (September 6th), ending a protracted impasse over the issue.
Besides wrapping up an unfinished chapter of the decade-long (1996-2006) civil war, the news has also raised hopes that Nepalese politics may be emerging from the fragmentation and distrust which have held up adoption of a new constitution.
Around 3,123 former soldiers of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) – a force which numbered over 19,000 five years ago, according to UN data – have been seeking to make the transition into the Nepal Army, while others opted for voluntary retirement and a return to civilian life.
The integration process began in July, but stalled over a dispute over eligibility, with the army disqualifying combatants who were younger than 18 at the time they enlisted with the PLA.
Another hurdle emerged as ex-combatants demanded that their academic qualifications be factored in when determining their rank after integration. But the stalemate was broken last week as Nepal's three major political parties -- the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the Nepali Congress, and the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist-Leninist) – reached an accord.
"With [this] understanding, the integration has now entered into the final stage of completion," Minendra Rijal, a Nepali Congress leader and member of the Special Committee in charge of the process, told Khabar South Asia.
Minors who joined the Maoist force will now be considered for the Nepal Army, but their service will be counted from the date they turned 18, according to Leela Mani Paudyal, spokesperson for the Parliamentary Special Committee that was tasked with resolving the issue.
The parties agreed not to recognise academic qualifications earned by former combatants after they joined the peace process. That lack of recognition had already led some former combatants to opt out of the integration process, officials said.
"As some former combatants have already opted for voluntary retirement under the same provision, it will not be good to give waiver in the provision at this stage," Special Committee member Jitendra Dev told Khabar.
The Maoists are hailing the agreement as a step forward.
"It is positive to resume the process. Now there will be no obstacle to complete the process from the Maoist party and the PLA (People's Liberation Army)," said party spokesperson Agni Sapkota.
The fact that the major parties were able to reach an agreement on army integration brings rays of hope to a country that has been in limbo since May, when its Constituent Assembly failed to draft a new constitution and was dissolved.
"It is a positive development in a sense that it will help build trust among political parties," said Reshma KC, a 25-year-old graduate student.
Since May, a caretaker government has been in place, with no clear process for resuming the constitutional process on the horizon. A fresh election called for November 22nd was also cancelled after the political parties failed to reach a consensus.
"Now the political parties should move ahead to resolve the political and constitutional deadlock," KC said.
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